Dog Training Psychology

What human psychology is combined with dog training psychology? Learn about the correlation of human psychology in work with dog training.

Psychology is the scientific study of human and animal behavior and mental process. So, how does this relate to humans interacting with dogs? Over my 8 year dog training career, I have observed very similar approaches to training dogs as to raising children. I have also observed the same human psychology learning patterns AND defense mechanisms used with both dog training as with child development and human behavior.

The quote “Its only a dog.” Or, “I’d never raise my dog like my child”, is often times NOT true! I have observed in many of my dog training cases where the customer will actually pay closer attention to the well being of their dog than their own child. The mental attachment and unconditional love from a dog can play a large role in the connection a human has with their dog and the love, attention, and protection they will give it.


Classical Conditioning was first explored and defined by a Russian psychologist named Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1904 for the research of the digestive process in salivary glands with dogs. This research states that an organism (dogs) learns to associate one stimulus with another..i.e..the repeated pairing of CS-conditioned stimulus with a reward of food. Pavlov’s most notable study was the conditioning of a dogs salivary glands expressed each time a bell was rung, shortly thereafter producing a food treat for the dog. For example, in Pavlov’s experiments, food is the unconditioned stimulus that produces salivation, a reflex or unconditioned response. The bell is the conditioned stimulus, which eventually produces salivation in the absence of food. This salivation is the conditioned response.

This EXACT classic conditioning technique is what is used in dog training! Sit=reward. Come=reward. For more info. on this process, see: Top 3 Dog Training Reward Methods.

GOAL: To train the dog to reach the stage of Extinction. This occurs when a conditioned stimulus repeadidly..i.e…comand “sit” without the unconditioned stimulus Therefore NO more treats, and ONLY verbal and physical affirmation as a reward.


Another common approach to dog training psychology is through operant conditioning. A process of behavior modification in which a dog is encouraged to behave in a desired manner through positive (treat or vocal/physical affirmation) or negative reinforcement (light correction on neck or scruff pull), so that the dog comes to associate the pleasure or displeasure of the reinforcement with the behavior.


Just like humans use defense mechanisms with each other, they often can often be observed using defense mechanisms with their dogs! A defense mechanism is a unconscious strategy for avoiding or reducing threatening feelings, such as fear and anxiety. The concept of the defense mechanism originated with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Defense mechanisms include denial (my dog only poops in the house occasionally), repression (my dog has never bit a human), projection (feeding your dog from the table), and displacement (bad day at work and you come home to yell at your dog.)

Be observant of how you justify certain behaviors when dog training. You will soon see many correlations of human psychology with dog training! By being aware of these similarities, it will allow you to get better dog training results with your pooch.